ABC announces ambitious expansion

Big spending plan would take TV, radio to new markets

SYDNEY -- The Australian Broadcasting Corp. has announced ambitious international expansion plans, which initially focus on launching TV and radio services in China and India, followed by a staged rollout to the Middle East, Latin America and Europe and North America, managing director Mark Scott said Wednesday night.

The ABC currently operates the Australia Television network and Radio Australia, with AUS$34 million ($30.6 million) per year in government funding. Australia Television broadcasts in 44 countries in Asia Pacific, reaching over 22 million homes, while Radio Australia has a network of 15 FM stations in almost every Pacific capital, and Cambodia and Laos, runs a digital radio service in Singapore, and broadcasts on shortwave in eight Asian languages.

Under the plan, Scott is proposing the integration of Australia Television and Radio Australia into one brand that would compete with CNNI and BBC World, lobbying the federal government to step up its funding of the operation. He said that “merely doubling the services' existing budget adds up to less than half of the budget of Baz Luhmann’s ‘Australia.'”

“By boosting the funds available for content, the ABC would be able to become the dominant regional provider of news, information and English-language learning material. We predict that with expanded distribution, this new integrated service could extend its television reach into Asia, the Pacific and the all-important Indian market by nearly 200 per cent by 2013,” Scott said.

Citing the increased need for “soft diplomacy” to protect and expand Australia’s role as an “independent credible voice in the region," Scott said “we may be a significant, strategic player in the G20, but our investment in broadcasting is meager in comparison to our colleagues."

He noted that in the past 12 months the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle launched its second television channel DWTV Asia Plus, and the Japanese and French also launched new services into the Asia Pacific region.

The UK spends $781 million on the BBC World Service and BBC World News; France over $540 million on international television and radio services, Germany ranks next with $480 million; China currently commits $342 million, and Japan spends $203 million, according to Scott.

“We have an important role to play and we have to use all the tools at our disposal to continue to do so…using the media to put our nation’s culture, values and policies on show,” Scott said. 

Under Scott’s plan the ABC’s newsgathering capability would be expanded with five additional news bureaus, giving the ABC access to a total of 14 bureaus in Asia, the Pacific and India -- more than either CNN or the BBC -- aiming to “firmly establish the ABC as the pre-eminent source of news and current affairs about and for the region."

The plan would then include a rollout of the service into aspirational households and decision-makers in 53 countries in Africa and 22 in the Middle East, with additional news bureaus and Arabic-language audio content for radio and online; a rollout into Latin America which would require carriage on a new satellite, but open the doors to another 21 countries; and an integrated ABC service that would seek to leverage broadband delivery systems in Europe and North America, giving Australia a truly global platform to promote itself.

Initially the ABC is intent on secure the all-important “landing rights” for the service in China, he said.